Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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Latest Half-Dozen Posts (Full Text)

Doing Well By Doing Good

Doing Well By Addressing The Poor
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, January 18, 2022, p. A6

I asked Senator Hubert Humphrey what he told newly elected senators. He said, “I tell ‘em they have to work four years for the Lord and then two years to get re-elected.”

There may never be another Hubert Humphrey, but there are officials who agree. Some may be responding to Jesus’ admonition we provide “the least of these” with food, water, shelter, clothing, health care – and prison visits (Matthew 25). Some acquire similar values from a different path.

Of course, others focus only on reelection -- pleasing major donors and party leadership.

Economics is not an exact science.

President Harry Truman’s assistant, Dr. John Steelman, described the President’s reaction to an economist providing “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” advice. When the economist left the oval office, Truman asked Steelman, “John, do you think you could find me a one-armed economist?”

That there are no “one-armed economists” is not because they are lacking in courage or knowledge. It is, as Harvard’s Alan Wang put it, “due to the inherently unpredictable sphere of study in which economics operates.”

“Greed – for lack of a better word – is good,” said Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, in the movie “Wall Street.” Milton Friedman established the precedent with his assertion that “businesses serve society best when they abandon talk of ‘social responsibilities’ and solely maximize returns for shareholders.”

It’s hard to make social progress without support from the “greed is good” crowd.

Fortunately, there’s a small group who see the selfish interests for all, including billionaires, from a “rising tide that lifts all boats.” They prosper “doing well by doing good,” aware that shortsighted greed can lead to shooting oneself in the pocketbook.

To boost an economy, 70 percent of which is driven by consumer spending, consumers need money. Cutting taxes for the wealthy may increase sales of private planes and yachts but doesn’t do much for our Gross Domestic Product.

The futility of the “trickle down” theory was best explained by Harvard economist Ken Galbraith: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”
• Iowa has a skilled workforce shortage. Community colleges create skilled workers. Many high school grads can’t afford tuition. Iowa’s businesses don’t want to train them. If greed is good, why don’t businesses force the legislature to provide free community college for all? They’d get their skilled workers – and shift the cost to taxpayers. [Photo credit: Kirkwood Community College, https://kirkwood.edu]

• Employee healthcare creates both hassle and huge costs for business. A universal single payer system would eliminate both – and give taxpayers the bill.

• Self-described plutocrat Nick Hanauer makes a similarly persuasive case for a $15 minimum wage, citing Seattle’s experience. That way those who work in restaurants can afford to eat in them. Everyone benefits, including the plutocrats – according to the 135 economists who agree.

Iowa legislators, how about putting in at least one year for the Lord? If greed is good, suppressing the poor makes neither dollars nor sense.
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Nicholas Johnson is the author of What Do You Mean and How Do You Know? Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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SOURCES

“Four years for the Lord.” This is my memory from a personal conversation between only the two of us that does not seem to have been recorded anywhere else.

“Matthew 25.” Bible, King James Version, Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2025&version=KJV

President Truman, one-armed economist. “Quote Investigator,” https://quoteinvestigator.com/2019/04/10/one-handed/

Alan Wang, “unpredictable sphere of study.” Alan Y. Wang, “No, Economics Is Not a Science,” Harvard Crimson, Dec. 13, 2013, https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/12/13/economics-science-wang/

“Greed is good.” “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed – for lack of a better word – is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.” Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (movie), 1987. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVxYOQS6ggk (a 2:05 clip from the movie “Wall Street” containing this quote)

“His point . . . was that businesses serve society best when they abandon talk of ‘social responsibilities’ and solely maximize returns for shareholders.” Richard Holden, “Vital Signs: 50 years ago Milton Friedman told us greed was good. He was half right,” The Conversation, Hoover Institution, Sept. 17, 2020, https://theconversation.com/vital-signs-50-years-ago-milton-friedman-told-us-greed-was-good-he-was-half-right-146294

GDP & consumer spending. Kimberly Amadeo, “Components of GDP Explained,” The Balance, June 26, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/components-of-gdp-explanation-formula-and-chart-3306015 (“Consumer spending comprises 70% of GDP.”)

Galbraith’s sparrows. John Kenneth Galbraith, “Recession Economics,” The New York Review, Feb. 4, 1982, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1982/02/04/recession-economics/ (“If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”)

Workforce. Erin Murphy and James Q. Lynch, “Iowa lawmakers agree on need for workers — but not how to get them,” The Gazette, Jan. 10, 2022, https://www.thegazette.com/article/iowa-lawmakers-agree-on-need-for-workers-but-not-how-to-get-them/

Minimum wage. Nick Hanauer. https://www.ted.com/talks/nick_hanauer_beware_fellow_plutocrats_the_pitchforks_are_coming

Molly Ball, “A Plutocrat’s Case for Raising the Minimum Wage,” The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/a-plutocrats-case-for-raising-the-minimum-wage/419130/

Google search phrase: economists who believe raising minimum wage helps economy https://www.epi.org/economists-in-support-of-15-by-2024/ (“stimulate consumer demand, business activity, and job growth”) -- with list of 135 names

Minimum wage is about to rise in 21 states, 35 localities as more https://www.usatoday.com › story › money › 2021/12/20 Google search phrase: which cities or states have a $15 minimum wage

$7.25 The minimum wage in Iowa is $7.25. This is the same as the federal minimum wage, which has not changed since July 2009. Iowa is one of 21 states that follow the federal minimum wage. Mar 9, 2021 Google search: what is minimum wage iowa

What You Need to Know About Iowa's Minimum Wage – Square https://squareup.com › guide-to-iowa-minimum-wage

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Science and Stories

Science and Stories are Different

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, Dec. 8, 2021, p. A6

“The good thing about science,” the bumper sticker began, “is that even if you don’t believe it, it’s still true.”

Aristotle could have written that, if there were cars with bumpers in his day (384-322 BC).

Aristotle came upon a group of men engaged in heated argument. Upon his inquiry, they reported the disagreement involved the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth. To which he replied, “Let’s go find a horse and count them.”

As Mason Williams confessed in the last line of his lyrics for “The Exciting Accident,” “this is not a true tale, but who needs truth if it’s dull.”

Like professional journalists in search of truth, scholars repeat similar versions of the story – as a parable – while disagreeing about the who, what, where and when it was first told.

I like the Aristotle version because he relied on personal observation in much of his writing, including “The History of Animals” in which he reported the number of teeth in horses.

Upon hearing Kellyanne Conway’s concept of “alternative facts,” Aristotle would have sided with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who famously said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they're not entitled to their own facts.”


Sadly, what seemed obvious to Aristotle over 2300 years ago, and to the research scientists among us today, has not been internalized by large percentages of our Homo Sapiens species. (Photo credit: See SOURCES - Photo/Info, below.)


High school and college courses in physics, chemistry, biology, and other sciences necessarily require some awareness of the vocabulary and current knowledge base of these sciences.

Some students develop a passion for science. Some avoid these courses. Others take them but leave school singing Sam Cooke’s lyrics, “Don't know much biology/Don't know much about science book.”

But what the National Science Teaching Association headlines is, “Science classes enable students in grades 9-12 to develop the critical-thinking skills required to make informed decisions about public policy, evaluate claims made in the media, talk to their doctors, and navigate an increasingly technological world.”

Whether it’s called “the scientific method” or “critical thinking,” these are lifetime skills that can be taught in any course and utilized by all of us every day.

In 1946, James B. Conant, among many other roles a chemist and one-time president of Harvard University, spun his Yale Terry Lectures into a little book called, “On Understanding Science: An Historical Approach.” He was suggesting, in effect, to understand science first understand scientists, what they do, how and why they do it, and the language they use to talk about it.

Framing answerable questions that suggest how they might be answered. Recording observations. Revising hypotheses and theories as necessary.

Homo Sapiens have been telling each other stories for millennia – often as lessons for children – from Aesop’s Fables around 600 BC to Watty Piper’s “The Little Engine That Could” in 1930.

Nothing wrong with that – unless we’re unable to see the difference between a fact and a phony, a story and a science-derived statistic.

And what’s that difference? American COVID deaths approaching 800,000.
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Nicholas Johnson is former co-director of the Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy; contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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SOURCES

Bumper sticker. Google search: bumper sticker "the good thing about science"

Mason Williams (“not a true story”). Mason Williams, “The Exciting Accident” Lyrics, AZLyrics.biz, https://azlyrics.biz/m/mason-williams-lyrics/mason-williams-the-exciting-accident-lyrics/

Scholars & parable. “Q: Searching for source of “horse’s teeth” parable (No Answer, 1 Comment) Google Questions/Answers] Subject: Searching for source of "horse's teeth" parable, Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research Asked by: slblack-ga, List Price: $100.00, http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=713157

Aristotle & horse’s teeth. Google, People also ask … “How many teeth does a horse have Aristotle?” The Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first to document the anatomy of the equine mouth in 'The History of Animals' written in 333BC 1. Aristotle correctly numbered the teeth at 44 in the adult and even described periodontal disease in the horse, which is still a common problem today. Oct 6, 2015 https://www.google.com/search?q=aristotle+horse+teeth

“Q: Searching for source of “horse’s teeth” parable (No Answer, 1 Comment); Google Questions/Answers] Subject: Searching for source of "horse's teeth" parable, Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research Asked by: slblack-ga, List Price: $100.00, http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=713157

“There was once a part of Greek thinkers -- this was around the time of Aristotle -- who sat up all night having a furious argument about the number of teeth in a horse's mouth. Unable to agree, they went out and collared a passer-by -- an Arab. He listened attentively to all their arguments, and then without saying a word, he walked away. He returned in a few moments, however, and told them the correct answer. 'How did you decide?' they cried. 'Whose was the better argument, the sounder logic?' 'Logic be damned,' he says, 'I've just been round the back to the stable and counted 'em.'"
--"Chemical Plant" by Ian Williamson
CHRISTIAN ORIGINS
http://www.christianorigins.com/crossan.html

Aristotle, History of Animals.
These appear to be derived from the writing of Aristotle: History of Animals- Book 6, Part 3, By Aristotle
http://people.cornell.edu/pages/dtc24/piece/151/History-of-Animals--Book-6,-Part-3.htm

Google Search: Aristotle, "History of Animals"

Aristotle, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotle, 384–322 BC (62)
"His data in History of Animals (333) Generation of Animals, Movement of Animals, and Parts of Animals are assembled from his own observations,[67] statements given by people with specialized knowledge such as beekeepers and fishermen, and less accurate accounts provided by travelers from overseas.[68]"

Alternative facts.
“Alternative Facts,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_facts, “’Alternative facts’ was a phrase used by U.S. Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, during a Meet the Press interview on January 22, 2017, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's false statement about the attendance numbers of Donald Trump's inauguration as President of the United States. When pressed during the interview with Chuck Todd to explain why Spicer would ‘utter a provable falsehood,’ Conway stated that Spicer was giving ‘alternative facts,’ Todd responded, ‘Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods.’”

Not entitled to own facts.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they're not entitled to their own facts.” Quoted in, Congressional Record Volume 154, Number 38, Thursday, March 6, 2008, House, pp. H1402-H1408. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CREC-2008-03-06/html/CREC-2008-03-06-pt1-PgH1402-2.htm

Don’t know much.
Cooke, “Don't Know Much About History Lyrics,” http://www.songlyrics.com/sam-cooke/don-t-know-much-about-history-lyrics/

Science courses.
Google search: teaching science in high school

“Science” as “critical thinking.”
National Science Teaching Association. https://www.nsta.org/levels/high-school (“Science classes enable students in grades 9-12 to develop the critical-thinking skills required to make informed decisions about public policy, evaluate claims made in the media, talk to their doctors, and navigate an increasingly technological world.”)

James B. Conant.
“James B. Conant,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_B._Conant

Aesop’s Fables.
“Aesop’s Fables,” (“Aesop's Fables, or the Aesopica, is a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. “ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesop%27s_Fables

Little Engine That Could.
“The Little Engine That Could,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Engine_That_Could (“The Little Engine That Could is an American folktale (existing in the form of several illustrated children's books and films) that became widely known in the United States after publication in 1930 by Platt & Munk. . . . The story's signature phrases such as 'I think I can' first occurred in print in a 1902 article in a Swedish journal. . . . The best known incarnation of the story The Little Engine That Could was written by 'Watty Piper,' a pen name of Arnold Munk, who was the owner of the publishing firm Platt & Munk.”)

COVID deaths.
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, US Deaths, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/, Dec. 2, 2021 (782,201)

Photo Credit/Info.
"FMN Laboratory researcher in the process of assembling a neuromorphic processor based on a photonic integrated circuit that allows computations at the speed of light. To manufacture such optical devices, FMN Lab developed technological processes aimed at achieving extremely low losses. The whole cycle of creating a processor includes several stages: from preparation of the surface of a silicon wafer and deposition of multilayer thin film coatings to fabrication of nanoscale circuit topologies and automated assembly of fiber optic processor modules and components.
FMNLab; Creative Commons Attribution 4.0; FMN Lab team (2).jpg; [[File:FMN Lab team (2).jpg|FMN_Lab_team_(2)]]; 3 March 2021, 13:19:41; 6,607 × 4,405; image/jpeg

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Taxes

Don’t Start A Discussion With Tax Cuts
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, November 10, 2021, p. 6A

Random thoughts about taxes.

1. Years ago I researched what political campaign donors get for their money. It turns out to be 1,000 or more to one.

An example: The Department of Agriculture sets milk prices. Imagine it refuses producers’ request for an increase. The industry makes a $200,000 “contribution” to the president. The milk price is increased. Next year Americans pay $200 million more for their milk. That’s a 1,000-to-one return on their “investment.”

You needn’t imagine. It happened. Except we paid $500-$700 million more.

Returns can include government contracts, tariffs, merger approvals, tax cuts and more.

This is an example of when increasing our taxes — to pay millions for publicly funded campaigns — could save us billions in family expenses.

2. Don’t mess with the tax code. If a business is to get taxpayer money make it a transparent appropriation on the table, not a hidden, manipulation of the tax code.

3. There are 12 or more categories of reasons why TIFs are objectionable.

For example, it’s backward. If a city or school board wants to spend tax money for legitimate public purposes, it needs voters’ approval. If it wants to distribute taxpayers’ money to for-profit private ventures, voters have no say.

We shouldn’t have different standards. But if we’re going to, aren’t taxpayers’ gifts to private businesses the ones requiring voter approval?


4. Our conversations should begin, not with taxes, but with the kind of life we want for ourselves and others. What our founders called “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Let’s pursue why the citizens of Finland and Denmark are number one and two on the worldwide happiness index while Americans are 18th. (Photo credit: Tiia Monto, Happy People road sign, Muuratsalo, Muurame, Finland, commons, wikimedia.org)

Only the most hardhearted among us will bad-mouth Jesus’ appeal for food, water, shelter, clothing, and health care for the poor (and prison visits). Matthew 25.

What to do? Economist Milton Friedman once told me, “There’s nothing wrong with poverty that money can’t cure.”

Money, yes. And taxes are one source. President Richard Nixon joined Friedman in the negative income tax idea. In 2019 Stockton tried a guaranteed basic income experiment. Forty cities followed, including Los Angeles and now Chicago.

5. But taxes aren’t the only source.

Some employers have voluntarily provided employees what Democrats are proposing: full health care, retirement packages, family leave, on-premises child care — and company housing or wages that can cover rent.

Foundations such as Bill Gates’ fund social programs. So do churches and nonprofits. And consider the economic value of volunteers’ efforts. It’s estimated to be the equivalent of all cash contributions and major philanthropy combined.

6. Public policy discussions should progress through: What do we want? What are the alternative ways of accomplishing it? What is the most efficient and effective way to do it? If personnel and funding are needed, what are the alternative sources of both? What are their pros and cons?

Fiscal responsibility? Of course. But please, no more starting off backing up with talk about “taxes.”

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Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, maintains nicholasjohnson.org. Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

SOURCES
Nixon & Milk Producers.
See heading and three relevant pages of notes on these events below.

TIFs.
Nicholas Johnson, “TIFs: Links to Blog Essays (2006-2015), https://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2014/03/tifs-links-to-blog-essays.html

Nicholas Johnson, “Talking TIF: Costs Outweigh Possible Benefits,” The Gazette, April 13, 2014, pp. A9, A12, https://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2014/04/tussling-over-tifs-pros-and-cons.html

TIFs often unnecessary. Dave DeWitte, “Ft. Madison Picked for Wind Turbine Blade Plant,” The Gazette, August 18, 2006, p. 7B (Of interest to rain forest followers because it involves “Earthpark’s corporate partner” (having declared its love but offered no dowery), Siemens (from whom nothing has been reported as having been heard since the “partnership” was announced) mentioned only one factor in its selection of Iowa for manufacturing these 146-foot-long, 11 ton blades. “Siemens conducted a nationwide site search . . . [and] the Iowa site’s proximity to the more northerly year-around navigation port on the Mississippi River at Keokuk was critical to its success.” Nonetheless, $5 million was provided by the state, county, city, and a community college.

Happiness index.
“Finland ranked happiest country in the world – again,” BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56457295, and “Happiness report:

“Finland is world’s ‘happiest country’ – UN,” BBC, March 15, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-43414145 (includes US at 18th place)

Nicholas Johnson, “World Happiness Index 2021; We're Number One?” April 19, 2021, https://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2021/04/world-happiness-index-2021-were-number.html -- provides links to our Declaration of Independence assertion “among these (unalienable rights is) “the pursuit of happiness” and to: Thomas Jefferson wrote the Maryland Republicans, “the care of human life and happiness … is the only legitimate object of good government.”

“Why are Danish people so happy?” Denmark Ministry of Foreign Affairs, https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture/happiness (“Denmark citizens pay some of the world’s highest taxes – up to 56% of their income, plus a 25% value added tax and up to 150% on automobiles. Yet most think it a bargain for what they get in return.”)

Nikolaj Skydsgaard, “Denmark’s high tax consensus wobbles as Danes told to spend,” Reuters, June 23, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-denmark-economy/denmarks-high-tax-consensus-wobbles-as-danes-told-to-spend-idUSKBN23U1SE (“Denmark rivals France among advanced economies for the heaviest tax burden on its citizens – who by and large accept it as the price to be paid for their cradle-to-grave welfare state.”)

Basic income.
Mark Guarino, “Chicago poised to create one of the nation’s largest ‘guaranteed basic income’ programs,” The Washington Post, Oct. 25, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/10/25/ ritica-poised-create-one-nations-largest-guaranteed-basic-income-programs/ (Stockton; 40 cities; LA and Chicago)

Employee benefits.
Jillian D’Onfro and Lucy England, “An Inside Look at Google's Best Employee Perks,” Inc., Sept. 21, 2015 https://www.inc.com/business-insider/best-google-benefits.html (free gourmet food; free fitness classes and gym (with showers); free transportation to and from work; free one-hour massages (rewards for good job); can bring dogs to work; matching 401Ks; post birth of child, moms get 18 weeks paid leave, dads 6 weeks (while continuing to receive stock and bonuses) and “baby bonding bucks” for supplies; on-site daycare; surviving spouse gets half the employee’s salary for 10 years plus $1000 a month for each child; 80/20 rule (80% of time for on primary job, 20% on “passion projects”); libraries and limited gifts of books; presentations and lectures; 3-month unpaid leaves (with healthcare up to 3 months)

Bill Gates Foundation. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, https://www.gatesfoundation.org/

Economic value of volunteers. Eleanor Brown, “Assessing the Value of Volunteer Activity,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 1, March 1999, pp. 3-17, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0899764099281001 (“”there are estimates suggesting that its dollar value today is at least on par with personal gifts of money and financial assets”)

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President Nixon and Milk Producers

Nicholas Johnson, “Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000,” Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996, https://www.nicholasjohnson.org/rcntpubl/campaign.html

“Milk Price Support Program,” Farm Service Agency, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, July 2004, https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/mpsp04.pdf

“Starting shortly after Richard Nixon took office, bad money began gushing into the Nixon coffers. It sometimes came to Washington in big bundles of cash. The Nixon impeachment charges included as supporting material references to payoffs from ITT and other large firms, and from special interests, including $2 million from milk producers, $200,000 from a criminal (Robert Vesco) to block legal action, and even $200,000 from McDonald’s in return for permission to charge more for a quarter-pounder at a time when wage and price controls were in effect. Item after item cites criminal fraud and conspiracy, bribery and extortion.” Barry Sussman, “A Watergate lesson: Secret money means payoffs, bribes and extortion,” Nieman Watchdog, October 19, 2010, http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=background.view&backgroundid=49

“Chronology of Watergate Developments in 1973,” Oct. 23, 1973, CQ Almanac 1973, https://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/document.php?id=cqal73-867-26366-1225636

“Dairy Letter. A letter to Nixon promising a $2-million 1972 campaign contribution from a dairy industry group in return for action to curb dairy imports was leaked to the press. Signed by a representative of Associated Milk Producers Inc. of San Antonio, Texas, the letter was dated Dec. 16, 1970. Two weeks after that, Nixon imposed quotas on certain dairy products. The letter reportedly had fallen into the hands of Archibald Cox shortly before he was fired as special prosecutor. The dairy industry's financial support of Nixon's campaign had been linked previously to a 1971 increase in milk price supports.”

Ditto, Nov. 17, “ilk Prices. None of his interrogators asked Nixon about the milk price supports case, so the President brought up the subject himself. It had been alleged that in exchange for a $422,500 donation to the Nixon reelection campaign from the dairy industry, former Secretary of Agriculture Clifford Hardin reversed himself in March 1971 and ordered increased price supports for milk producers. The increase was estimated to add $500-million to $700-million in income for dairy farmers.

Nothing of the sort occurred, said the President. He related that he had accepted Hardin's original recommendation not to raise price supports, but that three weeks later, “Congress put a gun to our head.” He agreed to an increase when his legislative advisers told him that members of Congress, mostly Democrats, he said, wanted the increase and could override his veto if he tried to prevent it. (Earlier action, Oct. 23)

Ditto, Dec. 17, “Milk Tape. U.S. District Judge William B. Jones agreed to a Justice Department request to temporarily seal all subpoenaed documents and tapes related to a civil suit brought by consumer advocate Ralph Nader against the Nixon administration for alleged- favors to the milk industry. Jones acted after a Nader attorney, William A. Dobrovir, admitted in court that he had played one of the tapes at a party. Dobrovir apologized for what he called the “very foolish mistake.” The tape he played contained a March 31, 1971, conversation between Nixon and dairy industry representatives, which White House attorneys had turned over in response to a subpoena.”

Jan. 8 ITT and Milk Statements. The White House released two lengthy papers detailing the President's rebuttal of charges that he granted favors to the dairy industry and to the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT) in exchange for large campaign contributions. The papers showed the allegations to be “utterly false,” said a statement accompanying them.

Political and national economic considerations, but not campaign financial needs, guided the administration's decision to approve higher milk price supports in March 1971, the White House contended in the milk background paper. The paper denied any connection between the milk support decision and the fact that dairy industry groups contributed $427,500 to the Nixon campaign in 1972.

The White House, however, acknowledged that Nixon knew as early as September 1970 that dairy groups planned to contribute large sums to his 1972 campaign. According to the White House, the President was informed in a 1970 memo of a $2-million campaign pledge from the Associated Milk Producers Inc., the largest dairy cooperative. But at no time, the statement added, did Nixon discuss the contributions with the dairy industry.

Jan. 11 Milk Case. Lawyers associated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asking for access to more White House tapes and documents relating to their suit charging that the Nixon administration based a 1971 decision to raise milk price supports on political considerations, including campaign contributions from milk industry groups. The brief included a quotation from a White House recording of a March 23, 1971, discussion between Nixon and industry representatives, which the attorneys said brought into question Nixon's contention that he did not refer to campaign contributions during the meeting. According to the brief, Nixon said: “And I must say a lot of businessmen and others I get around this table, they yammer and talk a lot but they don't do anything about it. But you and I appreciate that. I don't need to spell it out.” (Nixon milk statement. Jan. 8.)

Jan. 23 More Hearings. The Senate select Watergate committee voted four to three along party lines to hold six days of additional hearings into the $100,000 given by billionaire Howard Hughes to Nixon's friend, Charles G. (Bebe) Rebozo, and the $427,500 given to the Nixon campaign in 1971 by milk producers. # # #

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

School Board Governance

School Board Members Must Speak Out
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, October 6, 2021, p. A6

Returning to my Iowa City home from Washington, confronting appeals of friends who were teachers, I agreed to run for school board, won, but promised only one term.

Later, I tried to recruit new school board members. It wasn’t easy.

Perhaps it was my candid sales pitch: “Well, you may not get any pay, but at least you’ll get a lot of grief.”

We spend less on K-12 than other countries, and our economy grows faster than education spending. But our federal, state and local governments budget $734 billion for it annually -- roughly the size of the defense budget.

Given the responsibilities of school board members it’s remarkable they have neither entrance requirements nor training.

But then neither do presidential appointees.

Maritime Administrator at 29, and lacking administrative experience, I asked Commerce Secretary Luther Hodges about training. There was none. I pleaded for at least some advice. He said all I needed to remember was to pee every chance I got.

Iowa City’s much beloved librarian, Lolly Eggers, served as my school board campaign treasurer, and provided, as befits a librarian, a book: John Carver, Boards That Make a Difference. She had found it useful with her board. So did we.

As Carver puts it, most advice for boards just teaches “how to do the wrong things better.”


Our superintendent was preparing the board’s agenda, complete with what motions should be made and when. As I said at the time, “We don’t have board meetings, we have superintendent meetings to which the board members are invited and have the best seats.” We changed that, redefining the roles of board members and superintendents. [Photo credit unknown, possibly Nicholas Johnson; from blog post, "The School Bored."]

The Cedar Rapids school board’s Board Governance Policies bear some similarity to what we did 23 years ago.

Where they differ in practice involves the role of elected officials and group decision making. We made clear individual board members did not speak for the board. But they did speak -- and listen.

As FCC commissioner I wrote some 400 dissenting opinions. As a school board member, I wrote a newspaper column every two weeks about K-12 education. Sometimes painful for my colleagues, my writing was nonetheless tolerated as part of the group decision-making process.

One reason democracies have multi-person legislative bodies, appellate courts, commissions – and school boards – is the assumption groups produce better decisions than authoritarian dictators. When group members are elected officials, they have an added obligation to express their views, communicate with and represent constituents, to be a voice for the voiceless, an ear for the unheard.

There is not a single challenge confronting Iowa’s school boards that has not been discovered, diagnosed, treated, and resolved by one of America’s 16,800 school boards, or the 19 countries that outscore the U.S. for quality of K-12 education.

School board members need to spend hours regularly studying the literature, reporting, speaking out and stimulating discussion. That, and many other tasks, are things that cannot properly be delegated to a superintendent and board chair.
_______________
Nicholas Johnson is a former Iowa City school board member. See https://nicholasjohnson.org/governance Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

SOURCES

[School Board. My term ran from 1998 to 2001.]

[K-12 expenditures. Melanie Hanson, “U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics,” EducationData.org, Aug. 2, 2021, https://educationdata.org/public-education-spending-statistics]

[Defense Budget. “Budget Basics: National Defense,” Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Aug. 2, 2021, https://www.pgpf.org/budget-basics/budget-explainer-national-defense (“The United States spent $725 billion on national defense during fiscal year (FY) 2020 according to the Office of Management and Budget . . ..”)]

[Use of word “pee” in The Gazette; precedent. Adam Sullivan. 2021 headline: “Banning fake pee? In this economy?” The Gazette, Feb. 19, 2021, https://www.thegazette.com/staff-columnists/banning-fake-pee-in-this-economy/ ]

[Lolly Eggers. Iowa City Public Library Librarian, served from 1975-95. “Iowa City Public Library celebrates legacy of Lolly Eggers, Former Library Director,” Press Release, Iowa City Public Library,” July 2, 2021, https://www.icpl.org/press-releases/iowa-city-public-library-celebrates-legacy-lolly-eggers-former-library-director]

[Carver. Doing the wrong things better. John Carver, “Remaking Governance,” American School Board Journal, March 2000, p. 26, http://nicholasjohnson.org/writing-2/asbjcarv.html]

[Cedar Rapids School Board governance. “Article 2 Board Governance and Operations,” Cedar Rapids Community School District Policies and Procedures,” https://crschools.us/series/200/]

[Group decision making. Tim Barnett, “Group Decision Making,” Encyclopedia of Management, Reference for Business, https://www.referenceforbusiness.com/management/Gr-Int/Group-Decision-Making.html ]

[Number of school boards. Imed Bouchrika, “101 American School Statistics: 2020/2021 Data, Trends & Predictions,” Education, Research.com, June 10, 2020, https://research.com/education/american-school-statistics (“The U.S. is currently home to 16,800 school districts.”)]

[19 counties better than US education. “20 Best Education System in the World,” edsys, May 22, 2019, https://www.edsys.in/best-education-system-in-the-world/; Patricia Fioriello, “Top K-12 Education System in the World,” Critical Issues in Education, https://drpfconsults.com/top-k-12-education-system-in-the-world/ (“The top five K-12 education systems worldwide are as follows:” – the U.S. did not make the list)]

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Solving Our Housing Disgrace


Housing has been in the news. Roughly 500,000 are homeless any given evening. "The number of poor, renter households experiencing a severe housing cost burden (i.e., those paying more than 50 percent of their income toward housing) totaled 6,902,060 in 2016." ["The State of Homelessness in America."] "The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history. . . . [An] estimated 30–40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction in the next several months." [Emily Benfer et al., "The COVID-19 Eviction Crisis," Aspen Institute, August 7, 2020.]

What are our values and goals regarding the provision of housing?

Our international housing value and goal is expressed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including . . . housing. . ..”

Presumably, we can agree to a standard at least as high as what the Iowa Legislature provides for animals.

Iowa Code Section 717B.3 provides the penalties for “animal neglect.” “A person commits animal neglect when the person . . . fails to provide the animal with . . . ventilated shelter reasonably sufficient to provide adequate protection from the elements and weather conditions . . .. The shelter must protect the animal from wind, rain, snow, or sun and have adequate bedding to provide reasonable protection against cold and dampness.”

Can we at least start there for humans as well?

Having agreed on the goal, the next step is to explore the alternative means of reaching it.

Private ownership. Most housing is created and provided by developers, contractors, and landlords who “own” the housing and price it at “what the market will bear” – that is, maximizing profits up to the amount beyond which the increase in price so diminishes demand that overall income is reduced. This system works well for the owners – and is satisfactory for the buyers and renters with incomes of $75,000 and up, unless a “housing shortage” drives prices beyond what they would be in a more competitive market. But it tends to shut out the homeless and those working for the minimum wage, or otherwise in the bottom 20% of the population as measured by both income and wealth.

Private-government blend. TIFs, Section 8 and other programs are designed to incentivize owners with cash payments from taxpayers. This model is used throughout our economy, including housing. Its limitations are (1) often a disproportionate focus on and benefit for the middle class rather than the low income and poor, (2) the amorphous standard of “affordable housing” can include making a $400,000 condo available for $200,000, and (3) little to no limitation or regulation regarding how much profit (from taxpayers’ money) goes to owners.

Government housing. While government housing programs must play a role, they have had their problems as well.

Churches, other non-profits, and organizations. It is a wonderful, community-building thing that individuals are willing to come together to fund, organize, and provide additional housing for those most in need. Building a Habitat for Humanity dwelling does create a house that becomes someone’s home, an improved community spirit, and for those who build it a worthwhile sense of having done some good in this world for others. But it cannot, alone, make much of a dent in the 500,000 homeless sleeping on the streets, and the millions more low-income folks sleeping in their cars.

Keeping on keeping on. Of course, we need to continue to do what we can with what we have while endeavoring to bring more attention, commitment, and resources to housing for all.

But the bottom-line reality and shame that hangs over our nation’s housing failure will stay with us until over a majority of Americans, and their elected officials, set a top priority goal of creating and providing decent shelter to every American – and then pursue that goal with the determination and perseverance we applied to winning World War II, or putting a man on the moon.

Failing to provide shelter to animals is a violation of law called “animal neglect.” Can we not agree that failing to provide shelter for humans, “human neglect,” is as worthy of legal protection?

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Monday, September 20, 2021

America's Democracy September 2021

From its birth, America's democracy has been under attack -- from a number of directions, by different (usually relatively small) groups of people, with varying results, up to and including our Civil War and the January 6, 2021, insurection.

So it's useful to take its pulse from time to time to see how it is doing.

I have written about this in the book Columns of Democracy, numerous newspaper columns and blog posts. But I've just watched the report by Stephen Schmidt and now believe it to be one of the best analyses I've heard or read -- no screaming or wild claims, "just the facts, ma'am," as Dragnet's Joe Friday used to say. [https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/just-the-facts/]

Schmidt played major roles in the Republican party for years. Schmidt was communications director of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, during President George W. Bush's administration he was a deputy assistant to the president and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2004, he was a member of the senior strategic planning group, led by White House adviser Karl Rove, that ran President George W. Bush's re-election campaign and oversaw the reelection "war room". He was the White House strategist responsible for the U.S. Supreme Court nominations of Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts. He was campaign manager for the re-election campaign for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and headed up the day-to-day operations of the McCain presidential campaign. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Schmidt]

I don't lay this out to make the case that he's a dues-paying member of the Trump Cult. He's not. He was in on the creation of The Lincoln Project -- an organization he has now left. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lincoln_Project] He has also left the Republican Party.

Here's the video. Watch it and judge for yourself:

Amanpour and Company, PBS, "Lincoln Project’s Steve Schmidt “There’s a Battle for Control of MAGA Empire," posted Sept. 15, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqlwfRTHRqg

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Defending Wilderness Parks

Defending Wilderness Parks

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, September 12, 2021, p. D2

Iowa City’s Hickory Hill Park wilderness was recently protected from developers by the City Council. Not all wilderness has been so lucky.

Why wilderness? Everyone has stories. Here’s mine.


Over 100 years ago President Teddy Roosevelt warned, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone ….” He created the U.S. Forest Service and 150 national forests plus five national parks – 230 million acres in all.
[Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson; downhill trail from "The Rock," Hickory Hill Park, Iowa City, Iowa]

Did Iowa heed that warning? Apparently not.

Mark Edwards, after 30-years with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, retains his commitment. Eight years ago, in “A world Without Wildlife,” he wrote:

“We traded 93 percent of Iowa’s habitat for [agriculture], 6 percent for cities and roads. Two-thirds of [Iowa’s 36 million acres are] corn and beans. We killed the native prairies [leaving only] 30,000 acres [less than 0.1%]. All [Iowa’s] county, state and federal public land [combined] . . . amounts to a square less than 39 miles on a side. We have produced the most polluted surface water in America and continue to reduce habitat for most species."

One of my earliest memories of being four years old is lying on my back in the front yard on a windy summer day, looking up at the elms’ dancing canopy, speculating whether it was the moving limbs that made the wind, or the wind that moved the trees.

A few years later, when my parents refused to dictate “my” religion, and I came upon reference to Druids, who had sacred trees, I went looking for Iowa City’s Druid church. Finding none, that quest was abandoned.

As a member of one of the last law school classes permitted to take the bar exam before graduating, and with an awaiting federal clerkship in late August, I spent the summer visiting Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy: all the national parks west of the Mississippi.

Once in Washington, a few steps across a seldom-travelled street bordering my apartment, grew Glover-Archbold Park. Its 183 acres of wilderness and meandering stream ran north from Canal Road for 2-1/2 miles. It was my Walden Pond in the center of a city over three times the population of Des Moines. A place for a daily run, to meditate, to experience a forest through 365 days of sun, wind, rain and snow.

Nor is this the only wilderness area inside Washington. Rock Creek Park is 1700 acres. Glover-Archbold doesn’t even make the list of “12 Top Washington, D.C., Parks.”

Similarly, New York’s Central Park, envisioned in the 1840s and opened in 1858, is only the fifth largest in that city.

Developers seeking profit from a violation of Hickory Hill Park is bad enough. But can you imagine the billions of dollars 1700 acres in Washington or 843 acres in Manhattan would be worth to developers? And yet, to borrow from the Broadway show tune, “they’re still here” – because they had defenders.

We owe our wilderness no less.
__________
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, enjoys Linn and Johnson Counties’ wilderness areas. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

SOURCES

Hickory Hill Park and Iowa City City Council. Rylee Wilson, “Iowa City Council changes direction, votes no on Hickory Hill development; After voting to approve a controversial rezoning two times, the motion failed on its final consideration,” The Gazette, July 27, 2021, https://www.thegazette.com/local-government/iowa-city-council-changes-direction-votes-no-on-hickory-hill-development/

Iowa City. Hickory Hill Park is 190 acres; Iowa City 26.14 sq mi (Iowa 56,272 sq mi) “Iowa City, Iowa,” Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa_City,_Iowa#Metropolitan_area

President Theodore Roosevelt. “Theodore Roosevelt,” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/thro/learn/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-and-conservation.htm (includes quote); and see https://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=991271&module_id=339333 (“Conservation” quote)

Iowa wilderness. Mark Edwards, "A World Without Wildlife," Ames Tribune, Nov. 29, 2013, https://www.amestrib.com/article/20131129/Opinion/311299942 ("We are the most biologically altered state in North America. We traded 93 percent of Iowa’s habitat for agricultural purposes, along with 6 percent for cities and roads. Two-thirds of our roughly 36 million acres are covered in just two annual plants, corn and beans. We killed the native prairies and have only 30,000 acres left. It would be hard to do a better job.//All county, state and federal public land in Iowa placed all together amounts to a square less than 39 miles on a side, and all these areas are losing native species.//We have produced the most polluted surface water in America and continue to reduce habitat for most species.")

Druids. “Celtic Sacred Trees,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_sacred_trees (“Many types of trees found in the Celtic nations are considered to be sacred.” “Pliny the Elder describes a festival on the sixth day of the moon where the druids climbed an oak tree, cut a bough of mistletoe, and sacrificed two white bulls as part of a fertility rite.” With reproduction of the 1845 painting “The Druid Grove.”)

Clerkships. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge John R. Brown, 1958-59; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, 1959-60.

Washington, D.C. Parks.
Washington. “Glover-Archbold Park,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glover-Archbold_Park (183 acres)

“Glover-Archbold Park,” Birders’ Guide to Maryland,” https://birdersguidemddc.org/site/glover-archbold-park/ (stretching over 2.5 miles from Canal Road in Georgetown north to Van Ness Street)

“Washington, D.C.,” Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C. (“The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the district's population was 705,749 as of July 2019, an increase of more than 100,000 people compared to the 2010 United States Census.”)

Des Moines population, “Des Moines, Iowa,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Des_Moines,_Iowa (“The city's population was 214,133 as of the 2020 census.”)

Rock Creek Park, 1700 acres “12 Top Washington DC Parks,” Washington DC Sightseeing Tours, https://www.trolleytours.com/washington-dc/12-best-parks-dc

DC [as distinguished from "Washington"] has 900 acres of parks - District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_of_Columbia_Department_of_Parks_and_Recreation

Washington, DC 43, 766 acres. “DC’s 43,766 acres,” https://ggwash.org/view/42387/dcs-43766-acres-25-roads-2-high-rises
Central Park, NYC. “Central Park,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Park (843 acres; envisioned 1840s, opened to public 1858)

“They’re still here.” Stephen Sondheim, “I’m Still Here,” “Follies” (1971) https://genius.com/Stephen-sondheim-im-still-here-lyrics (“Good times and bum times/I’ve seen them all and, my dear/I’m still here/Plush velvet sometimes/Sometimes just pretzels and beer/But I’m here/ ….”)

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